Say “Miami” and you’ll imagine a great many things. Beaches. Nightclubs. Palm trees. And, if you’ve ever tried to drive here, soul-sucking traffic. That unpleasant gridlock not only adds stress to what should be a relaxing holiday, but it also limits how much of South Florida you get to see. In a place with such diverse culture, unique experiences and colourful locals, traffic can keep you from really making the most of your trip.
But this month, Miami welcomed Brightline, a privately owned commuter train running from Miami north to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach that’s effectively opened up all of South Florida to curious travellers. Brightline gets from Miami to Fort Lauderdale in less than half an hour, with another 35 minutes or so to West Palm Beach – quicker than by car even at the best of times.
“It opens you up to a region instead of a city,” says Patrick Goddard, Brightline’s president and chief operating officer. “So instead of arriving in Miami and being limited in the experiences you can have, your backyard just got bigger. You have a whole world of dining experiences in those other two cities; there will be a lot of experiences offered through Brightline.”
So say you’ve found a cheap flight to Fort Lauderdale, but want to explore the Latin American flavour of Miami while you’re there, it’s now just a quick half-hour train ride away. Or if you’re planning a South Beach vacation but want to catch the Leafs or Habs playing the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, you won’t have to fight rush-hour traffic to get there.
The trains themselves are sleek, modern machines – a far cry from the crowded, dirty commuter trains of the past. Even in the basic Smart class, the large leather seats are the size of first-class seats on some domestic airlines. The premium Select class offers seats that feel like living room loungers, with a complimentary cocktail included if you travel after 3 p.m. Those cocktails – as well as snacks and sodas – are also available in Smart class for a few dollars. Brightline also offers free WiFi on all trains, as well as gigantic touch-free washrooms and plenty of space for luggage.
The bright, spacious stations have high ceilings, a full bar and café, comfortable departure lounges, free WiFi and a wall of windows facing out onto the city. The stations aren’t out in desolate industrial areas either. All three are located in the heart of their respective downtowns, allowing quick, cheap access to beaches, concert venues and sporting arenas (Brightline has a partnership with ride-sharing service Lyft, for example).
“You can [also] literally walk to dining and attractions from any of our stations in downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach,” Goddard says. “It just makes a trip to South Florida much more fulfilling.”
Brightline is offering introductory one-way fares of $10 and $15 for single leg journeys, or $15 and $25 for the full Miami-to-West Palm Beach trip. And since never in the history of “introductory fares” have they gone down after the initial offering, it’s safe to assume prices will be higher by winter (although no official announcement on that has been made).
Although thoughts of a Florida vacation might be far off in May, the lure of having an entire region at your disposal is strong. With a fast, convenient train to help you explore South Florida, your holidays can be a lot more than just a quick trip to the beach. And if nothing else, you’ll get more interaction with the local residents who are using the train as well to get to work and around.
What to do at each stop
Head to South Beach and stroll by the historic art deco hotels along the beach. Stop at the Clevelander for a drink before setting up on the sand, somewhere south of Fifth Street. Then roll over to Little Havana and grab a drink at Ball & Chain while listening to a Cuban band and smoking a hand-rolled cigar. Grab a mojito at the Cubaocho Museum and Performing Art Center before cooling off with some ice cream from Azucar.
Spend the afternoon drinking by the sand at the funky beachfront dive Elbo Room or see where Florida Man gets his drinks at Dirty Blonde’s. If you’re hungry, try out Stephen Starr’s new Mexican spot, El Vez, in the W Hotel. Staying closer to the station, you can catch a national touring show at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts before hopping through the bars at Himmarshee Village. Or head up to the FATVillage arts district for its monthly art walk through galleries.
West Palm Beach
If you don’t mind a little exercise, rent a SkyBike and take the short ride over to the posh island of Palm Beach, cruising past old-money mansions before landing at Worth Avenue. Head back to West Palm and have lunch at Restoration Hardware, a high-end furniture store with a rooftop restaurant that’s become one of the chicest scenes in Palm Beach County. Then stop into the Culture Lab – an abandoned Macy’s department store that’s now filled with rotating art installations set among the deserted shelves and checkout counters.